Review: The Christines at the hi-dive, 8/27/11

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The last time the Christines played, it was December 6, 2008 at the hi-dive, around the release of its most recent offering, Here It Comes Again. This time around, it was a real treat to see James Paul, who played guitar with the band when it was based in San Francisco, lay out some incredibly tasty guitar leads in "Aquagirl" and "In My Dead World." The hi-dive stage was pretty full with the six members of the Christines. A lot of bands who have three guitarists don't really use that configuration to its fullest ability, which was no problem here.

Paul, who has spent several years in New York City fronting and playing guitar in the late great post-punk band Undersea Explosion, joined Mike Kirschmann and Eric Lowe on guitars, and it was fascinating to see how the three occupied different tonal ranges in the songwriting. "Forest by the Lake" seemed to have twin leads reminiscent of the Chills or Straight Jacket Fits from "Down in Splendor."

During "Aquagirl," Paul took on lead vocal duties for most of the song and gave it a bit of a grittier feel. This was followed up by "Cursing Grave Robbers," for which Kirschmann took out his Vox twelve-string for the first time, putting away his SG, for some lushly Byrds-esque guitar melodies, with Lowe and Paul weaving in threads of glistening, shimmery sound.

"In My Dead World," had that swell to rich, swarming atmospheres and then to an introspective minimal sound that the Church often did on some of its best songs. One of the Christines' finest composition, the outro to the song was an electrifying bit of sonic depth at the intersection of Nick White's and Tim Hourigan's strong rhythms and a broad tonal range between guitars and keyboard.

The set ended with "The Cat," and in the beginning, it was hard to distinguish between Paul's swirling guitar sound and Chris Alaimo's synth shimmering in the middle distance, until Paul's sparkling lead streaked across the song with power and grace. With Kirschmann's beautifully resonant voice and the songwriting somewhere between psychedelic garage rock and dream pop, the Christines proved once again that guitar rock can truly be creative, innovative and compelling when its purveyors exercise the proper blend of technique and imagination -- things for which this band doesn't lack.

Before The Christines took the stage, The Omens started the show off perfectly with some real rock and roll fire. Now a three piece (or perhaps just for this show), the band didn't seem to really be missing anything, and the parts of the music where the keyboard would have filled out the sound some, the trio just made even more creative use of space and dynamics.

"So Far Down" was so intense, fuzzed-out and unconventionally psychedelic, it was reminiscent of something Spacemen 3 might have done. Before the band played "Alright," some wag in the audience shouted, "Aren't they all called 'Alright'?" But this honestly humorous heckler got called an old nickname by Matt Hunt -- "Q-tip."

This ribbing between friends didn't slow the show down at all and the Omens closed with an even more fuzzy burst of frenzied rock called "New Direction." With the spiky, guitar shimmer along a wave of tremolo with angular rhythms, it kind of did sound like a new direction for the Omens, even though the title did happen to be in the lyrics.

Overcasters closed out the show at midnight. You wouldn't want to be the band that went after acts like the Omens and the Christines unless you were just as good. So no problem. Shane Williams' projections through the fog and after the fog were vibrant and gave the whole scene a psychedelic flavor to match the music -- otherworldly and vibrant yet grounded.

Before "The Kiss of Sister Ray," there was a song where Todd Spriggs had engaged a robust fuzz pedal that made his bass line sound darkly aggressive and it was pleasantly startling as it kicked in throughout a song that sounded like a post-Closer Joy Division gone barmy. One thing that seemed obvious from this show is how Overcasters perform transitions between songs really well in a way most bands don't so that when there are gaps between songs, it's generally on purpose.

But even with this level of premeditation in creating a set, it seemed like everyone in the band was having a good time, with John Nichols, especially, rocking out like he got new batteries or something. For the second to last song, there were heady, sustained drum builds from Erin Tidwell, in what would have been the quiet sections but instead ended up being another way this band experiments with its dynamics, and Kurt Ottaway spun in circles like Debbie Googe herself, caught up in the moment.


Personsal Bias: Been a fan of the Christines ever since stumbling upon the first EP nine or ten years ago. Didn't know who they were only that they were on the mysterious Gift Records like Twice Wilted, Grimace and Cynic's Bane. Random Detail: Ran into Natasha Fortis of the Hi-Strung at the show. By the Way: All three Christines releases still hold up well.

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